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Records Relating to State Board of Elections | State Archives Catalog

The mission of the Board of Elections is to protect the integrity of the electoral process and to effectively and efficiently administer the provisions of the election laws of the United States and the State of Rhode Island including, but not limited to, the governance and conduct of elections, voter registration, campaign finance, public funding of campaigns and any other duties prescribed by law.  The Board is responsible for implementing, monitoring and enforcing federal and state laws as they apply to election and election-related activities conducted in Rhode Island. Additionally, the Board adopts rules and regulations and issues directives as it deems necessary to carry out the purpose and objectives of the election and campaign finance laws of Rhode Island.

In 1901, a State Returning Board was established to collect, count, and tabulate votes. The board was also responsible for keeping records of vote outcomes and ensuring that outcomes were published in local newspapers or other publications. The duties and responsibilities would change little over the next century.

Before the State Returning Board was formed, the Secretary of State was in charge of moderating the voting process and ensuring the results were given to the general assembly so that election results could be made public.

In 1935, per PL 1935, Chapter 2195, the use of voting machines was regulated and a board was formed to oversee the administration and operation of said machines. That same year, in PL 1935, Chapter 2188, the Board of Vote Tabulation was established as an official governmental body under the Department of State. Per the aforementioned legislation, all duties of the former State Returning Board were transferred to the Board of Vote Tabulation, as well as new responsibilities involving the administration of voting machines.

A year later, as part of a reorganization of Rhode Island state government in 1936, the Board of Vote Tabulation was dissolved and all powers were transferred to the newly created Division of Elections within the Department of State.

With the passing of the Administrative Act of 1939, changes were made to the process of vote tabulation, as handled by the Division of Elections. However, in 1941, a section 22 was added to the Administrative Act that now delegated these duties to a Board of Elections.

Current functions of the State Board of Elections include the maintenance of voting machines, providing election day supplies to the municipal canvassing boards, certification of the election, poll worker education, mail ballots counts, recounts and the administration of the provisions of the campaign finance laws.  The Division of Elections under the Department of State provides voter education, prepares sample ballots, maintains the central voter registry, prepares mail ballots, and publishes election calendars as well as other functions as stipulated in the statutes.

Abbreviated Timeline

1842: Secretary of State, Towns Clerks and Moderators responsible for the voting


1901: State Returning Board established

1935: Official Board of Vote Tabulation established under Department of State

1936: Division of Elections created within the Department of State

1941: Section 22 added to Administrative Act of 1939, creates a Board of Elections

1979: State Board of Elections repealed and completely rewritten, becomes RIGL 17-7

Extended Timeline

1842:Responsibilities involved in the voting process delegated to Secretary of State,

Town Clerks and Moderators, and the Grand Committee

-Rhode Island State Constitution, 1842

-“…all votes for these officers shall be sealed up by the moderators and town clerks and by the wardens and ward clerks, who shall certify the same, and deliver or send them to the Secretary of State; whose duty it shall be securely to keep and deliver the same to the grand committee…it shall be the duty of the two houses at said session, after their organization, upon request of either house, to join in grand committee, for the purpose of counting and declaring said votes, and of electing other officers…The ballots for senators and representatives  in the several towns shall…be counted by the moderator, who shall announce the result, and the clerk shall give certificates to the persons elected…”

1901: State Returning Board established

-PL 1901, chapt.825: An act creating a State Returning-Board and defining its duties.

-“There shall be a State Returning-Board consisting of five members…the ballots cast for electors of president and vice-president of the United States, representatives in congress, and general officers, and for and against any proposed amendment of the constitution of the state, or any question submitted to the electors of the state, shall be counted and tabulated by said board… said board shall forthwith, after each result has been ascertained, furnish to each candidate elected a certificate of his election…”

-All rules and regulations for the conduction of meetings of said board described in aforementioned chapter.

-Duties include:

Immediately inform the governor of results of elections after vote tabulation.

Keep records of all votes cast

Prepare press releases in a publication in every major city in Rhode Island as to the outcome of the election, including how votes were cast

1935: Board to oversee the purchase of voting machines and vote tabulation formed

-PL 1935, chapt.2195: An act authorizing the use of voting-machines at state, city, and town elections, and regulating the use of the same.

-“A Board to purchase voting machines, composed of the following members, the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor, the Secretary of State, the State Budget Director and Comptroller, and the Chairmen of the Senate and House Finance Committees shall purchase all voting machines…”

-A committee for vote tabulation formed

-“From a list of ten names submitted to the Secretary of State biennially in the election year by the state chairmen of each major party for the state election…five (5) men shall be appointed by the Secretary of State, or the Boards of Canvassers of the cities and towns as the case may be, not more than three of whom shall be of the same political party, to act as a special committee for receiving, reviewing and tabulating for final totals the returns and tabulations from the respective voting machines used at the respective election…”

-All rules involved in the purchasing and privacy practices involved in vote tabulation clarified in said chapter.

1935: Official Board of Vote Tabulation established under Department of State

-PL 1935, chapt.2188, 2250: An act to reorganize and consolidate into eleven state departments all existing state boards, bureaus, commissions and administrative agencies, defining their powers and duties and providing the transfer of all powers and duties conferred by law upon existing administrative agencies of the state government to said eleven state departments.

-Board of Vote Tabulation, the State Library, and Assistant in Charge of Law Revision fall under the Department of State

1935: Board of Vote Tabulation assumed duties of former State Returning-Board

-PL 1935, chapt.2250: An act relating to the civil administration of the state government and amending or repealing certain general and public laws.

-“Within said department [of state] there shall be a Board of Vote Tabulation to be appointed by the Secretary of State…Said board shall exercise such powers and duties as were vested by law in the State Returning Board.

-Composition of Board:

Five qualified electors, not more than three of whom shall be of the same political party

1936: Division of Elections created within the Department of State

-PL 1936, chapt.2479: An act creating a Division of Elections in the Department of State and defining its duties.

-“There shall be in the Department of State a Division of Elections which shall constitute and Election Board for the state.”

-3 Members:

Chief of Division

A Republican

A Democrat

-“Said Election Board shall perform the duties of the Board of Vote Tabulation…the Board of Vote Tabulation shall cease to exist.”

1941: Section 22 added to Administrative Act of 1939, creates a Board of Elections

-PL 1941, chapt.1040: An act…providing for the appointment of the members of the Board of Elections and directing said board to make a report to the next session of the General Assembly and making an appropriation.

“There shall be, independent of every other department and agency of this state, a Board of Elections, consisting of 4 qualified electors of this state…2 of whom shall be republicans and 2 of whom shall be democrats…Before entering upon his duties each member of said board shall take an oath of office before the Supreme Court in which he shall swear or affirm faithfully and impartially to administer the duties of his office without regard to partisan or political considerations…”

-Assumes duties and responsibilities of both the Division of Elections and the Election Board

1962: State Board of Elections has jurisdiction over appeals, State Election Inspectors


-PL 1962, chapt.201: An act in amendment of Chapters 17-7, 17-16, 17-19, 17-20, and 17-21 of the General Laws, in Title 17, entitled “Elections,” as amended.

-“(d) The state board shall also have jurisdiction over all election matters on appeals from the local board and over such other matters pertinent and necessary to the proper supervision of the election laws.”

-“The state board shall appoint and issue commissions to a sufficient number of qualified electors of this state to be election inspectors so that one may be assigned to each election polling place…”

-Inspectors serve to ensure that proper voting practices, whether they be by voters or officials, are adhered to

1972: Term Increased for members of Board of Elections

-PL 1972, chapt.285: An act relating to the Board of Election.

-“Members of the Board of Elections heretofore appointed to said office pursuant to the provisions of this section as it exited prior to the effective date of this act shall serve for a term of ten (10) years from and after the date of their original appointment herein.”

1979: State Board of Elections repealed and completely rewritten, becomes RIGL 17-7

-PL 1979, chapt.312: An act relating to the State Board of Elections

-Section 1 repeals Chapter 17-7 of RIGL in its entirety.

-Section 2 recreates Chapter 7 to Title 17

-“There shall be, independent of every other department and agency of this state, a Board of Elections, consisting of seven (7) qualified electors of this state…”

-Duties defined:

Supervise election laws

Custody over voting machines and all dealings involving said machines

Prepare and deliver election supplies to each voting district

Canvass and tabulate all votes case at each state election

Provide a certificate of election to elected candidates

Maintain records of votes cast

“The state board shall also have all of the powers and duties formerly conferred or imposed by existing law upon the Division of Elections and the Election Board…”

(for a complete list of duties, see chapter; for a complete list of current duties, see RIGL 17-7)

1985: Board of Elections in charge of formulating a training program for polling officials

-PL 1985, chapt.92: An act relating to elections

-“[the board must create a] mandatory orientation of all appointed wardens of polling places. All such programs shall be formulated by the Board of Elections…The board of elections shall also formulate and provide a program together with an information sheet for all other appointed and selected polling officials…”

1986: Board of Elections must provide schools to train election officials, as well as

publish informational pamphlets; PL 1985, chapt.92 repealed

-PL 1986, chapt.523: An act relating to Elections

-“The availability of said schools for persons interested in serving as election officials shall be publicized and persons interested in such instruction shall make application for attendance at said schools…shall also formulate and provide an informational pamphlet containing detailed instructions regarding the duties of elections officials and the operation of polling places…”

1996: Board of Elections, in cooperation with the NVRA of 1993, must aid in the

registration of voters

-PL 1996, chapt.298: An act relating to elections.

-“[Duty (13) of RIGL 17-7] Arrange and make provisions for the registration of voters pursuant to the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) of 1993. The state board shall formulate programs to assist those persons organizations desiring to register voters and shall provide…rules and regulations it shall adopt, voter registration services which may include, training sessions, registration materials, manuals and other services for the purpose of registering to vote eligible Rhode Island citizens.”

2003: Requests for absentee ballots powers transferred from Board of Elections to

Secretary of State

-PL 2003, chapt.234: An act relating to elections

-“If the FPCA (Federal Post Card Application)…is sent by the voter through electronic transmission, it must be sent to the Secretary of State and it must be received by the Secretary of State by the deadline for applying for absentee ballots as set forth in its title…”         

State Board of Elections, General Laws Pertaining to:

RIGL 1909, chapt.19

RIGL 1938, chapt.311

RIGL 1956, 17-7-1

State Board of Elections, Public Laws Pertaining to:

PL 1901, chapt.825; PL 1930, chapt.1592; PL 1935, chapt.2188, 2195, 2250; PL 1941, chapt.1040; PL 1943, chapt.1276; PL 1958, chapt.18; PL 1961, chapt.70; PL 1962, chapt.201; PL 1963, chapt.209; PL 1972, chapt.285; PL 1978, chapt.201, 251; PL 1979, chapt.312; PL 1985, chapt.92; PL 1986, chapt.523; PL 1990, chapt.199; PL 1996, chapt.277, 298; PL 2003, chapt.234

Variant Forms of Agency Name:

State Returning Board

Board of Vote Tabulation

Board of Elections

State Board of Elections

Related Resources:

Board of Elections website

Board of Elections - Open Meetings

Board of Elections Rules and Regulations

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